22 June 2006 Edition
Orange Order should pull back from the brink
Last year witnessed widespread paramilitary violence and intimidation across the city of Belfast and elsewhere in the Six Counties, as a result of the Orange Order's insistence on getting its own way over the contentious Whiterock Orange march.
The decision by the North's Parades Commission on Monday was nothing short of capitulation to the threat of further unionist paramilitary violence. They rewarded the Orange Order and the unionist paramilitaries responsible for last year's shooting, bombing and intimidation on the streets.
Wednesday's Orange Order response to the Commission's ruling was an object lesson in understanding the mindset of Orange bigotry- pandering to sectarianism and rewarding bullyboy tactics does not work. It merely feeds the infantile attitude of sectarian supremacists who brook no opposition to what they see as a God-given right to march through areas where they are not wanted. They accept no responsibility to negotiate or compromise. They have no respect for the values of tolerance, equality or democracy.
Compounding an already difficult issue, the Parades Commission's ruling will have the effect of forcing two Orange marches into nationalist areas.
Furthermore the Commission has entirely undermined what should be their focus- promoting an accommodation through dialogue.
Nationalist residents have been more than willing to meet the Orange Order and to accept compromises in any negotiations.
There are three possible routes which the Whiterock march can take. The preferred option of nationalist residents is for the march to avoid nationalist homes altogether by marching via the West Circular road.
The Orange Order insists on marching through a peaceline gate at Workman Avenue that seperates the nationalist Springfield area from loyalist Shankill and is only opened twice a year at the insistence of Orangemen determined to march into a nationalist district.
Another route through the Mackies site is a difficult compromise for nationalists. Although avoiding the heart of the nationalist area, there are still a majority of nationalist homes beside the entrance. Last year Orangemen emerging from Mackies attacked nationalist homes. Despite this, nationalist residents were willing to accommodate this compromise.
Tensions are running high in West Belfast this week. Even at this late stage, representatives of the Orange Order leadership should engage directly with local residents to resolve the issue. The work undertaken by the Ardoyne Dialogue Group in the run up to the recent Tour of the North Orange march shows what can be achieved by dialogue, negotiation and mutual respect.
What is now required, is for Orange leaders to pull their organisation back from the brink.